Zombie sequel to Far Cry 2?
Most people will have seen the teaser trailer for Dead Island – it went viral pretty damn quick, and in my opinion was the most beautiful game trailer I’d ever seen. It certainly didn’t give much away about the game it was advertising other than that there were zombies on an island, but it was tantalising and mysterious and looked gorgeous. Needless to say, I wanted to see what this game was all about, but somehow knew it could never live up to the trailer. Well, I was right. But that’s not to say I’m not enjoying the Dead Island experience. In case you haven’t seen the trailer, or guessed from the name, Dead Island is set on a tropical Island called Banoi, and the once idyllic resort now seems to have become overrun with the walking dead. It’s up to you and your band of survivors to, well, survive…oh, and to run errands for the numerous other survivors on the island that you will meet, hunkered down in barricaded huts, fortified bunkers and lifeguard stations. Despite what it may look like – some sort of FPS game – Dead Island is a strange beast to try and define. Yes, you play from a first person perspective, and you can shoot should you choose to, but with ammo being scarce there is a heavy focus on melee combat. It is also a sandbox setting allowing you to explore the beaches, jungles and towns, and there is also a clear RPG element with XP awarded for kills and completing quests, and skill points available to spend on talent trees when you level up. On top of this, there is a weapon upgrade and customisation system, and you will have to maintain your weapons as they degrade quickly with use. There’s a definite Left 4 Dead feel to the game, it’s a zombie game after all, and it has been designed with cooperative play in mind with 4 players able to play together, but you will never encounter a horde like you do in L4D. You can also draw parallels with games like Dead Rising, and I’ve been asked told I need to brand it as the “Zombie sequel to Far Cry 2”. But the truth is that Dead Island does manage to be its own game, and after your first couple of hours of gameplay you’ll forget about any comparisons to other games. What lets Dead Island down is that it is a bit over-ambitious, and not one of those elements they’ve crammed in stands out. The shooting mechanics are not great and there’s no cover system, so while your enemies may duck in and out of cover (not the zombies obviously-you face humans in this game too) you can’t do the same. But that doesn’t really matter all that much because their AI isn’t too great either and you can predict their movements fairly easily. The weapon maintenance can be annoying too as it can become rather expensive. While you can just drop your broken weapons and pick up new ones all over the island, the chances are you’re going to find weapons that you grow attached to, upgrade, and modify. And once you’ve gone to the effort of doing that you’re not just going to drop it in favour of a plain old knife off the street. So maintenance becomes key, but as I discovered after crafting one of the game’s secret “developer’s craft” weapons, if you let a weapon break then try and repair it you’ll be hit with a hefty bill. It cost me $10000 to create one of these weapons, and now I can’t afford to repair is as the game wants another $12000 to let me do so!
I’ve really had to think hard to remember all the bits I don’t like because it has been so much fun
Luckily for me, Dead Island appeals to my slight OCD streak. I’m perfectly at home wandering the island raiding every single item of baggage left lying, and raking through every bin. And I’m also compelled to complete every single quest and side-quest given to me by the survivors of Banoi. Unfortunately again, the questing is very “samey” and they almost always boiled down to “go here, get this, bring it back” or “go here, clear the area, come back for your reward”. I’m still enjoying myself and I’ve still done every single quest offered so far, but a little more variety would have been nice. I think the best way to sum up Dead Island’s issues would be “many but minor”. There are a lot of issues but nothing that’s really a game-breaker and nothing that’s going to take away from the enjoyment of hacking your way through the undead to get that last pack of juice to take back to the lifeguard hut. The melee controls are clunky – you can choose between digital or analogue depending on how you want to play. Digital lets you just tap a button to slash, while analogue lets you hold the trigger and swipe the right stick in the direction you want to slash while also being able to target limbs so you can really torture the sod who bit you in the face, but because the right stick is also your “look around” stick, you often find yourself looking at the ground as you frantically hack away. But then when you think about it, maybe that adds to the realism of a gritty “soil your pants” battle with the undead? The driving sections are also pretty terrible as it’s hard to see where you’re going and the vehicles feel very unresponsive, but it’s still very satisfying seeing zombies slamming into your bonnet. You will also notice the graphics streaming in quite slowly when loading new areas, making things look very low detail for a few seconds, but then when they are fully streamed in they look amazing. The voice acting isn’t great either, and the cutscenes and dialogues have been made without the solo player in mind at all as the people you are speaking to will always talk as if you have companions with you. I’ve also noticed when I’ve died and respawned that the game has sometimes put me ahead of where I was, rather than back, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve spawned right where I died with the zombies instantly tearing into me again. Lots of problems, but still I keep playing… The coop system is another strange beast, and I’m not sure it entirely works. For a start I didn’t even realise I was playing coop the first time it happened-I saw a seemingly hyperactive character jumping up and down with a trade icon on them and suddenly realised I was trading with a real person. The box boasts “seamless coop” and I guess they delivered on that if I didn’t even realise I was playing it! Essentially all you have to do is wait until you see a message saying someone is “nearby” then press a button to join their session, and likewise they can join yours. The problem arises when you want to go and craft an item or repair all your weapons, and suddenly you have a message saying “xxx is waiting for you” and you realise you’re holding up their game, or when you get people running off to complete side quests they need instead of helping out the rest of the group. I guess that’s a problem with any co-op game though really. It seems like I’m writing another overwhelmingly negative review, so I’m going to stop myself now and just say that despite all its faults, I really like Dead Island. It has made me panic, jump out of my seat, and laugh out maniacally as I sever limbs in fountains of blood, and when it comes down to it I’ve really had to think hard to remember all the bits I don’t like because it has been so much fun that I keep forgetting them.